I have to say that a lot when I wear my veteran gear. Be it my ball cap that says, “US NAVY VETERAN – PROUDLY SERVED,” my US NAVY Cruise Jacket that has about half the countries I’ve set port into, or my shipboard foul weather jacket that has my ships name and hull number on the back. Why do I have to answer this question? To me, it’s fairly obvious; I’m female, I’m a senior citizen with white hair, and I don’t live in a military town.
I’ve had great experiences while wearing my veteran gear. I’ve met and made friends such as our gracious Editor-In-Chief here. While in restaurants I’ve talked to and shared a table with other veterans that would have otherwise eaten alone. I’ve answered children’s questions about the US Navy, and, I have to say, I learned some things about our military from some of these children. Sometimes family stories are exchanged, or grief for a fallen veteran is shared. ‘Many smiles, head nods, and greetings as I walk. Other times its not as good experience nor a feeling.
Those that are meeting me on the sidewalk look at my hat turn their face away, cut their eyes back at me, then look straight forward and pass. Those that hold the back of their hand to their mouth and whisper to their companion who then looks at me, then my hat, never speaking and pass. Someone that walks past me to greet and thank my male companion (with no military gear) for their service to our country and when told, “she’s the veteran” apologies to the male, but never says a word to me.
One man in a check out line turned to me and asked, “did you really serve in the military.” I responded. He turned to the cashier, shook one knee back and forth, then turned to me, held his hands out a waist level, wiggled his fingers up and down, then said, “I bet all you did was type.” The young female cashier and the girl behind me in line both looked uneasy. I said, “Administration is essential, but, no, actually I was one of the first females in a prior all-male field which required a high math aptitude.” He watched the cashier fill his bag, then asked what I did. I told him I was a welder, ship fitter, pipefitter, sheet metal worker, carpenter, and was the first female on my ship’s engine room fire fighting squad. I also did collateral duty as a Master-At-Arms (Navy Military Police) while in the Mediterranean”.
He grabbed his bag, leaned into the cashier, and said, “I bet she can’t even change a tire.” The cashier looked at me as if to say, “Help me here; I’m being pulled into this.” I responded with, “Oh, I can change a tire, but I have someone that would do that for me.” As he turned and walked out, the cashier held her mouth open, shook her head up and down as if laughing, but with no sound. I turned to the girl behind me; She had her hand in a fist and was pumping a bent elbow to her waist. I just shook my head side to side and smiled. At least we got some female bonding in on that one.
Many people have been called out for impersonating military personnel in the past. I’ve even called one out myself while bragging to a gas station clerk about being a Navy SEAL, as he pointed out his gear. It turns out I knew some SEALS and knew the questions to expose him. He left the station quickly. In a school where a SEAL candidate was required to have a partner before starting BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL), I was chosen to be a SEAL candidate partner. Why a female partner? I was the only person in the Command with the scores for the school.
Should you have doubts about someone being a veteran, please, ask. It shouldn’t take long to figure out if they are a con or the real thing; just converse with them.
There have been women in the military since the Revolutionary War. Today about 19% are female in the enlisted fleet, Army 13.5%, Coast Guard 12.5%, Air Force 20.9%, and Marines 6.3%. It was much lower while I was active. Last I could find around 1%, maybe up to 4% more recently, of the overall United States population are female veterans. That’s not much, is it? Guess you might say I belong to one of the smallest minorities in the whole country.
I am not wearing military gear to honor the veteran; I am the veteran. Hey, I’m a rarity, and I’m full of sea stories – just ask me.
Kathy A. Frederick – US Navy, Federal Armed Response Officer, Artist, Jack of all trades, Nomad by choice.